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Spanish PM must testify in corruption scandal

April 18, 2017

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has been summoned to testify as a witness in a major graft trial. The event marks the first time in modern history that a Spanish premier has been asked to take the stand.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo/V. Mayo

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has been called to testify in proceedings relating to corrupt practices by a number of companies, which are suspected of bribing lawmakers in Rajoy's conservative People's Party (PP) in exchange for contracts.

It is not yet clear on what date exactly Rajoy is to take the stand. The 62-year-old leader is not accused of any wrongdoing himself in the case, but his post as PP party chief since 2004 could mean that he might hold valuable information. The daily "El Pais" newspaper, however, has reported that the public prosecutor considered testimony from Rajoy to be irrelevant to the case.

The court's decision to subpoena the prime minister went against the wishes of the PP. In a statement, the party said while it "respects" the court's decision to summon Rajoy, "we cannot agree with it."

Widespread corruption

The trial arose out of the so-called "Gurtel" scandal centered on businessman Francisco Correa, who along with three others is suspected of fraud and the embezzlement of large sums of public funds between 1999 and 2005.

In total, 37 defendants face justice in the controversial case, in which it is alleged that Correa and his network would receive a commission of 2 to 3 percent on the value of public tenders. Correa is alleged to have shared those profits with the politicians that facilitated the awarding of those contracts.

The case forced Rajoy's health minister, Ana Mato, to resign in 2014. She stood accused of benefiting from illegally-obtained funds via her then-husband, the mayor of the city of Pozuelo de Alarcon. Former PP manager and treasurer Luis Barcenas is also implicated in the case.

Corruption remains a major issue in Spain: last year, the country scored its worst ranking in Transparency International's annual Corruption Perceptions Index following a series of scandals hitting various political parties. The issue has divided the country, driving many to vote for new parties outside of the old political establishment, resulting in the PP losing its majority last year and now ruling in a minority government.

A first for Rajoy

Rajoy's summons marks the first time in recent history that a Spanish prime minister has been called to testify in a court case.

Since Spain's transition to democracy following Francisco Franco's dictatorship, only two former prime ministers have had to testify in court. Spain's prime minister during the transition to democracy, Adolfo Suarez, and Felipe Gonzalez, a former Socialist leader, both testified as witnesses in separate trials in 1998.

ss/cmk (AFP, dpa)